[Tweeters] Vireos, Wrens and an Early Migrant

Joshua Glant josh.n.glant at gmail.com
Thu Apr 16 22:37:32 PDT 2015

Hello Tweets,

We had an incredible Puget Sound Convergence Zone on Tuesday. It abruptly turned a beautiful and sunny afternoon into a heavy downpour, and finally into pelting hail that made our yard look like a late-season dusting of snow had come down.

After that, this week has really felt like spring has truly, finally arrived. The trees are green and mostly leafed out. The birds are singing in full force. The nesting pair of Ospreys are back at MIHS, too. I first one bird perched alone in their nest, on the morning of the storm (what a welcome back!) and then I harassing an eagle together yesterday, and possibly flying together today. For the past few days, we have had many Bald Eagles circling overhead at lunchtime: seven yesterday, along with an osprey, and four eagles today.

And of course, it's now the Season of the FOYs. A fine time of the year when we welcome back summer birds, say hello to ephemeral migrants, and catch up on any lingering winterers or residents!

I was, admittedly, a bit jealous to read accounts of FOY Black-throated Gray Warblers in Seattle. In one of the messages, it mentioned a very early Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Lucky! I thought. Pacific-slope Flycatchers are great birds, and many sang and called in our backyard last summer. I remembered having briefly seen a flycatcher last spring in the canopy of a partially-leafed out tree, in a local park. Though I knew my chances were low, I started to imagine actually finding one. How amazing THAT would be! I even showed the song to my brother, saying, "I can't wait to see one of these this spring".

So this afternoon, I took a walk around the neighborhood with my brother, mother and our dog. Our path wandered through Rotary Park (where I heard the calls of a now-familiar nomadic flock of Red Crossbills, amazingly present since last August!), and along a street with a male Anna's Hummingbird who sticks to a single spot on a wire like clockwork, perching there every time I've seen him for months. Finally, we arrived at the destination, Ellis Pond. Ellis Pond is the only true pond habitat on Mercer Island, and it supports a year-round population of Mallards that swells in the summer. My favorite Mallard has interesting and distinctive brown markings on his flank.

Anyways, there were a lot of birds. Song Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, House Finches, and a Pileated Woodpecker that may have been pecking on a well-excavated snag. Ellis Pond is incredible Pacific Wren habitat, probably the best on Mercer Island: a network of stumps and dense salal under a thick canopy of cedars. Today, a wren (perhaps missing a tail) sang its impossibly loud, gurgling song on an exposed snag 10 feet away!

I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler calling from above, and also what I thought was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet moving through the canopy. I was wrong: a minute later, after I had lost the bird in the leaves, a note of a Hutton's Vireo song came rolling out of the shrubbery! During this time, a Band-tailed Pigeon called intermittently from some hidden location. I searched for the vireo, and heard calls from the other side of the path, around a cedar. I think I saw a few. There seemed to have been more than one, calling in the unique ways of the Hutton's Vireo. Then, another small bird flew up and landed in a tree. I looked at it, noticed its upright position, and then I realized how momentous this bird was. It was a flycatcher!

My eyes widened in excitement. It actually DID happen! An early flycatcher at Ellis Pond! I got a few photos of the bird as it fluttered and flew around the forest, thankfully only staying out of site for a bit. I got good views of the lower mandible (all pale), the very yellow belly, a lighter throat, and I might have even seen a teardrop-shaped eye-ring. All pointing to a Pacific-slope Flycatcher!

I think I mistook the flycatcher for a very bright Hutton's Vireo at one point as it foraged up the cedar. But I soon realized my mistake. Oh, the Hutton's Vireo: a bird that looks like both a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a flycatcher, depending on the angle!

The bird perched in clear sight once more, then fluttered upwards into the cedar and out of sight. Satisfied and elated, I made a victory sprint home for dinner.

Long story short: I found a Pacific-slope Flycatcher at Ellis Pond! The birder gets the early migrant! The early bird gets the territory! The... Ok, I'll stop now.

I hope you enjoyed my epic tale. I find that my Tweeters messages come in two forms: either it's a request for birding information, or it's the saga of my birding adventures. I hope you like it! I personally like reading birding trip reports, so I like to think of these posts as "birding short stories".

Now, to submit my eBird report and give Ellis Pond the Hotspot status it deserves!

Good birding in the Season of FOYs,

Joshua Glant

Mercer Island, WA

Josh.n.glant at gmail.com

P. S. You can learn more about Puget Sound Convergence Zones (PSCZ), a meteorological phenomenon unique to the southern Georgia basin, here: http://www.komonews.com/weather/faq/4306427.html

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